Back in July, we sent a letter to Danny Kruger MP as part of a consultation mandated by the Prime Minister on how Government can sustain community responses to the pandemic. Our response focused on the role of participatory philanthropy and opportunities for young people.
The report, titled ‘Levelling Up Our Communities’ was published yesterday. Though unsurprisingly the spotlight was on Rishi Sunak’s announcement, Kruger’s report however, brought a glimmer of hope with 20 recommendations for how Government might reframe its relationship with local communities, and support a sector which according to some estimates could be worth up to £200 billion.
Many of the recommendations echoed things the sector has been asking for many years, i.e. that communities be put front and centre in designing and delivering the kind of neighbourhood they want to be part of. One of the ways this can happen, the report suggests, is through more place-based policy, noting that the culture, environment, look and feel of places matter as much to their prosperity as their economic connectivity and business infrastructure. He also suggests that social infrastructure should be supported through investing in community connectors and hubs, developing libraries, and policies to make it easier to start and run a charity.
All of this would require more investment in the social sector and Kruger rightly talks about the need to resource civil society. One proposal is to establish a Community Recovery Fund (CRF) using the £500 million National Fund as an endowment, for charities and community groups supporting the transition from the ‘response’ to the ‘recovery’ phase. Alongside the CRF, Kruger proposes a new endowment, i.e. a Levelling Up Communities fund, which could provide a permanent source of income for the UK’s communities, using the estimated £2 billion sitting in dormant insurance accounts and other financial products to support long-term transformational projects in communities.
No mention is made of the community’s role in setting up the priorities of the fund or in investment and distribution strategies. At most the report suggests that the process of making spending decisions should empower communities as much as possible. This feels like a missed opportunity to clearly support a more radical, participatory approach to fund design, management and distribution, and to empower communities by ensuring they have the tools, knowledge and resources they need to make positive and sustainable change.
Whether the recommendations outlined in Danny Kruger’s report are sufficient for the broken model we currently have, and whether Government is going to adopt any of these recommendations is too early to tell. Many of the proposals lack the detail to understand if they will be fit for the people of Barking & Dagenham.
For example, there is a welcome proposal for young people’s paid ‘service’ opportunities to work on a variety of social and environmental projects but the report is elusive on how these opportunities will be designed to benefit young people equally, ensuring young people from deprived areas or those living in poverty get to take up the opportunities.
Similarly, the environment is treated a bit as a secondary issue (there are 12 mentions of the word environment through the paper and no mention of climate change), and mostly in relation to projects. Although there is a welcome mention that social and environmental purpose should be embedded more firmly in both public policy and business activity his proposal falls short on the detail and ambition for the kind of systemic transformation that is needed to put communities front and centre, and prepare our society for the challenges ahead.